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Dan's Adventure in Japan

End of the second week in Japan

I think I will start this off with some observations about the Japanese healthcare system and then move into the more fun stuff.

I have been seeing a lot of Japanese healthcare facilities outside the Kameda System. Though the Kameda facilities are a little rundown, they are somewhat in parallel with American standards. The other hospitals and nursing homes I have visited have been of pretty deplorable quality.

Today, for instance, I visited a pair of facilities. The first was an institution for the elderly and the mentally ill, Tojyo. The area for the elderly packed between four and six patients in a room. You could hear some of the patients crying and moaning. The paint was graying and looked like it hadn't been touched up for many years.

I noticed that there were no patient rooms on the first floor of the four story building. All of the patients were "stored" on the upper floors of the building. Unfortunately, there are no fire escapes or ramps for the patients to leave in the event of a fire. I asked the director about this and he replied that the staff would carry the people out of the facility on their backs. I have a very hard time imagining that. This place was a disaster waiting to happen.

The mentally ill in the facility were "stored" in an adjacent building. The patients suffering from depression and other forms of mild mental illness were kept in large, open areas. They were in rooms that were 20 feet square. There was no furniture,. The floors were covered with woven straw mats and a few blankets. Between seven and ten patients were kept in these rooms. The more dangerous mentally ill patients were kept in an area I was not shown. I was told they are behind barred doors in windowless, padded rooms.

I recognize that there is a significant cultural difference between the US and Japan, but I have a hard time accepting that this is the best the Japanese healthcare system can do. If conditions like this existed in American facilities, they would be shut down the next day. Some catalyst needs to push the Japanese system forward. With some exceptions, it falls far short of what I would expect a first world country to offer for healthcare.

Aside from touring these healthcare facilities, I have also been getting some other work done. I co-authored a proposal to bring LASIK procedures to Japan. I also am working on an infection control paper. That has been challenging, since the Japanese Ministry of Health is reluctant to publish any health statistics that might reflect poorly on the system. Although reporting certain healthcare statistics is required by Japanese law, the compliance has not been very good. I am continuing to struggle with these differences between the US and Japan. However, it has proven to be an interesting challenge.

Mr. Wocher took me over the Yokosuka Naval base last week. We toured the hospital and the base. I was very impressed with both the hospital and the base. The hospital was very modern and attractive. The OB/Gyn area was of particular interest. The doctor in charge told me that they project child birth levels by taking the arrival of their aircraft carriers in port and adding nine months. The base as a whole had a lot of cool things to see. There was no aircraft carrier in port, but I saw several submarines and Aegis-class cruisers. The shopping on the base was amazing. They had large department stores with a variety of American products. Everything was sold at prices below those used in the US and was also tax free. There was a Taco Bell on base, but I didn't go. This may surprise many of you, since my love of Taco Bell is a widely publicized character quirk.

Mr. Wocher took a small group of Kameda people out last night. We went to a local sushi place for drinks and food. Mr. Wocher and I were a little early for the dinner, but the other two people showed up about ten minutes later. One worked in the lab and the other was the hospital pathologist. The pathologist was described to me as "tough as nails...a big drinker and smoker...He'll probably do his own autopsy." I wasn't the least bit disappointed with him. He and I shot comments about Japan and America back and forth the whole evening. He was a lot of fun. Much beer and sake was consumed prior to the ordering of food. We ended up with a few plates of raw fish. It was all fairly good, but not readily identifiable. The wasabi was the hottest I have tasted.

As the evening went on, I found that drinking with these people is pretty intense. If you have a drink about half gone, they order you another one in front of you and they shout: "DRINK! Ha ha ha!" It's a lot of fun and gives me a good chance to see how people in Japanese society act in a less formal setting.

We ended up doing karaoke again. The song list was pretty poor and I did just one song. The wife of one the lab worker picked us up and took us home. Again, another fine evening of experiencing Japanese life firsthand.

It's hard to believe that I have already been here (almost) two weeks. The time is going by quickly. I am working hard and having a lot of fun at the same time. The sushi isn't too bad either.